A team of planetary scientists announced they discovered organic molecules on Ceres. It is the first ever unambiguous detection of organic molecules on an asteroid, which makes the discovery groundbreaking!
Ceres is a dwarf planet hidden in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The researchers, led by Maria Cristina De Sanctis, an astrophysicist at the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome, unearthed the molecules with the use of data gathered by NASA's Dawn space probe, which currently orbit around Ceres.
Clear photo of Ceres taken by probe DAWN (c) NASA
"We see a lot of interesting chemistry on Ceres," says De Sanctis in a statement
, and "this is the first time we have seen such a clear [organic] signature on an extraterrestrial body."
According to the findings published in the journal Science
, the space probe found a distinct molecular fingerprint in the light near a large crater on Ceres' northern hemisphere, called the Ernutet crater. The probe found the organic molecules with an instrument called a visible and infrared light spectrometer.
The molecules are basically chemical chunks of carbon and hydrogen atoms grouped together, such as CH3 and CH2. Though, the probe can't identify which molecules were down on Ceres, they're likely to be tar-like minerals such as kerite or asphaltite. Meaning, they're organics.
According to De Sanctis and her colleagues, they're quite sure that the molecules actually formed on Ceres itself. The class of organic molecules discovered on Ceres are extremely delicate, and the heat of the impact involved the crater's creation would have utterly destroyed them.
If there are organic molecules on this dwarf planet, does it mean alien life isn't any more impossible? We'll know soon.